by Lynn Domina
I see their photos nearly daily without ever fully believing the images. I’ve heard testimony from friends and neighbors and recently even my own daughter. In the deep hours of night, especially as autumn is turning toward winter, northern lights ignite the sky. I’ve never seen them. I used to assume I never would, for they hold such a special mystical significance—something I believe is true, even trust is true, yet know can’t possibly be true. Their beauty is too strange.
I live now along the shore of Lake Superior, which always looks majestic, whether the day is calm or stormy or the sky above it is clear or dark with clouds. I gaze at the lake, resting in its expanse, and then I look up toward the sky, measuring the boundary between water and air. I live now far enough north that at the winter solstice, we’ll see just over 8 ½ hours of daylight. I’ll leave for work in darkness and arrive home in darkness. I wouldn’t want to spend my entire life walking through the dark, but at least for now, such short days still seem exotic. And I know that late one night, maybe next month or maybe next year, I’ll step outside, and there they’ll be, the aurora borealis, northern lights, shimmering waves of green or purple or blue. I won’t believe it.
In this season of short days, I’m waiting for the stretched out light of spring, but even more I’m hoping to see the glorious undulations of the northern lights. I’ll be grateful for both. The feeling is different, responding to the ordinary and the extraordinary. During the long days and the short days, I feel contentment, each day unfolding as it should. When I do see the northern lights, I expect to feel awe, as creation reveals itself to be even more astonishing than I could have imagined.
My response to the light I experience and the lights I hope to see mirrors my understanding of faith. I wander through my days, occasionally perceiving the ordinary grace that envelopes me, grace that is always more than enough to make this life meaningful. I wake up next to my spouse and watch her breathing, and then I hear my daughter rumbling around in her room. I step out onto the sidewalk and see the clouds reflecting dawn. I taste the grilled cheese I’ve made for my lunch, knowing that it nourishes my body as much as it satisfies my spirit. I attend a poetry reading and hear another person creating art through language, dedicating her life to observation and testimony and self-expression. I receive each of these moments as a blessing, knowing that they’re mine because God first created this world and then brought me into it. These moments are as ordinary as the days that lengthen and then contract, and they are enough to make me glad for this life.
And yet, my faith also tells me there’s more, even if I haven’t yet experienced it directly. My faith confirms that the God who created each of us also became incarnated to share our human experiences and continues to sustain us. Being alive in this world is enough. But my faith teaches me that my indirect experiences of God will one day become direct. The light I walk within every ordinary day will blaze across the night sky like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Walking in the light, walking toward the light, walking through the night and waiting for it to flare with color makes life itself an Advent experience. I wait expectantly, aware that my ordinary life and its extraordinary moments reveal the God who also waits, expectantly, filled with hope, exuding light.